Starbucks is an ever-changing experience. You can take any slice of time in Starbucks history, and talk about massive changes. The Starbucks experience of the 1990s was just as disruptive as as it is now.
I think that I’m personally getting better and better at just going with the flow at Starbucks. Lots of people have the belief that there was one perfect segment in time in Starbucks history. I don’t think so. And maybe, just maybe, Starbucks is helping to teach me to be more adaptable and forward-thinking. (Well, I am trying to go with the flow.)
When I started as a Starbucks customer, I remember seeing this logo on cups, mugs, and signs in the stores:
That’s the logo that was in use at Starbucks from 1987 to 1992. (I moved to Seattle in 1989). So I’ve been through three logos with Starbucks. I definitely remember this: there was only one milk. You could get whole milk at Starbucks. In the early 1990s, there was no such thing as a Frappuccino. If you had asked a Starbucks barista if Starbucks would ever be selling coffee beans in grocery stores, they probably would have said “no.” Beans were scooped from bins. The menu sizes were “short,” “tall,” and “grande.” There was no such thing as Venti. The merchandise inside a Starbucks was phenomenal. Starbucks sold games, mugs, trinkets, toys, gold coffee filters, a variety of coffee makers and presses, books, and you name it. During the 1990s, every Starbucks had quadruple the merchandise of what you find in a store now. Imagine if you walked into a Starbucks now and saw collectible Limoge boxes, or a snow globe?
I distinctly remember being at the Nordstrom at Northgate Mall and see Starbucks – Nordstrom Blend Coffee: Starbucks made a whole bean coffee just for Nordstrom at one point in the 1990s.
Some of the conversations I remember from the 1990s, went like this: “Hey Jim, have you noticed that ‘short’ is no longer on the menu?” (Jim’s drink order has not changed in twenty years: “double short breve latte.” This conversation, while standing in the kitchen of his house in North Seattle, was a big deal. He is the one who reassured me that I could still order a “short” beverage.) “This is so weird! You can buy Starbucks coffee in grocery stores now!” “Hey, have you noticed that the Green Lake Starbucks has food now?” There was a time when there was no way to buy anything that resembled a lunch at Starbucks. I remember that for a long time, it seemed like the Starbucks staples were butter-horns, a couple of muffins, a cinnamon twist thing that looked like a churro, and maybe a croissant. That’s about it. There were no breakfast sandwiches. There was no way to warm anything. I remember when there were just a handful of syrup choices. Almond was an extremely popular syrup in the 1990s. There were no drive-thrus. Speed of service, sometimes to customers’ annoyance, wasn’t the highest priority.
I remember buying tickets at the Oak Tree Starbucks for a Starbucks-sponsored KPLU Jazz Cruise. I remember looking cups and mugs at Starbucks, and every single one had a coupon inside of it for a free beverage. For a long, long, time, you ALWAYS got your cup, mug, or tumbler filled with a free beverage when you bought one inside the store. You didn’t walk out with it empty. I remember Starbucks selling magazines, and never buying one because I thought they looked strange to me. I remember when every Starbucks that I knew of (I only had two regular Starbucks – Oak Tree and Northgate) had two separate lines and registers: there was a whole bean line and a beverage line.
In 2004, I remember a couple of very weird things. I returned to Seattle, having spent three years living in San Francisco from 2001 to 2004. And, when I returned to the Northgate Starbucks – that store had been my main store for a decade, I was stunned that there was a huge CD burning machine in the space that had once housed the condiment bar. (2004 was the end of the Hear Music era of Starbucks – the CD burning machines in select stores were part of that era.) And in 2004, I definitely remember this weird feeling that the number of Starbucks in Seattle had quadrupled. When I left in 2001, it seemed like there were a handful of stores, and I came back to the experience that there is a Starbucks everywhere in Seattle. I remember when the stores were filled with pottery. It seemed like the massive pottery era also ended in about 2004.
I’m sure that I missed an enormous amount that Starbucks did. Back in that era, I went to Starbucks like 30 times a year, in contrast to 30 times a month now. At this point, I am sometimes aware of what Starbucks will be doing before it happens.
I write all this out because – to be totally truthful – I just groan at the words, “Starbucks will never do that.” The one thing that Starbucks has unequivocally proven is that they’re good at change.
It’s okay to go with the flow.